I would learn that God is everywhere… His love exists without limitations of color or race…
Their very special acceptance and love would become a life-changing experience for me. They would remain my primary family throughout my life until this very moment. Living with the McCabes and being welcomed so completely by them also would initiate a major shift in my perspective of my place in the world and my sense of humanity.
– p. 86
In the fall of 1957, nine African-American students enrolled in the all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Melba Pattillo Beals, just fourteen, was among them. Surrounded by an angry mob, the students were denied entry that first day. The hostility and resistance to integration rapidly necessitated intervention by the federal government. Soldiers of the 101st Airborne division were brought in, escorting the nine to and from each class. Yet the violence, the natural child of racism, continued unabated.
Beals was slapped, punched, kicked and even had acid thrown in her eyes. She, along with the others, received death threats. In 1958, Governor Faubus shut down Central High and the other high schools, resulting in a year lost to the Nine and to all the African-American students in the town. Eventually, Beals was forced to relocate to California, with the help of the NAACP, for her own safety. The white McCabe family, Quakers who were active in the Civil Rights movement, opened their arms to this young woman who had experienced little in the way of kindness from white people.
One cannot be an honest student of history and believe that racism never existed, doesn’t exist today or that it was/is “not a big deal.” Nine teenagers wanted the chance for a better education. They chose to put themselves on the line so future generations would not have to suffer the “separate but equal” nonsense. Ignorance and evil exploded in their faces. Why? Because someone, somewhere, long ago decided that the color of their skin made them inferior.
Racism is idiotic and anti-Gospel. Beals makes this clear as she shares bits and pieces of her story. I Will Not Fear is not told in a strictly chronological format, which is really my only complaint about the book, because I love a tidy timeline. She invites the reader to share in her experiences with hatred and violence. There is no hemming or hawing in her words. Black type on white pages force the reader to grapple with the very real evil done to a very young woman.
Throughout, Beals returns to the lessons her Grandmother India taught her:
Are we a faith family or have we given up on trusting God for His protection? Isn’t that the bottom line? When you go, Melba, God will be with you.
– p. 40
That is the bottom line, isn’t it? God is with us wherever we go. He will empower us to do whatever He has called us to do.
This is not a light read, despite the page count coming in at just 200. It took me several weeks to make my way through, because I had to step away and think about what I was learning. We are just 60 years removed from these terrible events. We would be naive to think that “it’s all over” and “everything is fine.” This country has yet to truly come to terms with its past or its present. While nobody needs to take on guilt that isn’t theirs to own, it is important that we listen to the stories. That we take it all in. That we let God expose what needs exposing.
I Will Not Fear is well worth your time.